Alpine Lady

Honoring the natural world through prose, poetry, music, sounds, photographs and musings.


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Musings in the Autumn Season: Color, Form and Texture

Mysts of Autumn

Mysts of Autumn

When the heavy autumn mysts sweep inland enveloping the grasses and fencerows, obscuring the shapes of things, hiding movements and dulling all but the brightest of colors, the animals in their camouflaging coats of fur and feathers, the shadowy druidic oaks and the nearly-naked Indian plum and bitter cherry trees all but disappear in the shifting haze.

If I step into the mysts, the horizon becomes elusive, receding or creeping forward as the amorphous grey expands and contracts. At times I imagine or perhaps even sense the off-shore breeze breathing it forward, seeking my identity, my reason for entering into its grey refuge and is ready to dampen my enthusiasm, to test my resolve with its chilly, damp vapors. Yet when the sun burns through the fog, the winds disperse the grey, or the contractive dimming light of autumn rain lifts, my spirits rise and I witness another world enlivened by color, form and texture rivaling the pallets and fabrics of the autumn fashion scene. (*CSI)

Dyer's Polypore often used for dyeing wool.

Dyer’s Polypore often used for dyeing wool.

The basic, more drab background colors of grey, ivory, nude, khaki, chocolate and white which designers embellish with cool and warm color tones and appropriate accessories, exist in nature as foundations for embellishment with leaves, blossoms, fruits, berries and functional accessories such as spider webs and nests. In the fall time, the base tones color the underlaying structure of the graceful snowberry hedgerows lining fields and country lanes and abound in the world of fungi and its plethora of forms and textures.

Blue elderberry covered with whitish bloom causing them to appear power blue.

Blue elderberry covered with whitish bloom causing them to appear powder blue.

The cool fashion color tones of autumn with names such as loden and pine green, grape, syrah and fuchsia purple, spruce, powder blue, peacock, cobalt and moody, and the dark ink tones greet me in the grey-greens of the lichens, the flowers for sale in the farmers’ markets, the Michaelmas daisies in the country gardens, the rich purple juice of the expressed elderberry, the needles of the blue spruce tree, the powdery blue elderberry and blueberry fruits, the brilliant flash and flicker of the Steller’s jay flitting about in the coniferous forest, and in the moody skies overhead as the weather patterns establish a cooler dominance, the night sky lengthens and turns into the dark inky, almost black of night.

A late-blooming, fragrant fall rose.

A late-blooming, fragrant fall rose.

The warm color tones inspired by the natural world and reflected in the world of fashion: crimson, tomato and orange-reds, sweet potato and toffee, raisin, rust and gingerbread, carnation and dried rose pinks, mustard seed and yellow, plus aged cabernet and bordeaux appear in the bounty of fruits both fresh and dried, produce, flowers, leaf colors and even some fauna as the season deepens; and, in the pressed juices, serving wines, elixers, infused honeys and medicinal tinctures prepared with the fruits and roots of autumn.

Sometimes forms or textures dominate and colors become secondary. The leaves of the majestic big leaf maple live up to their name and often measure over a foot in diameter. The bark of the tree is gnarled and grey. The trunks sensuously grow in close contact and branch into thick strong arms capable of holding the heaviest layer of rainforest mosses and epiphytes. The big leaf maple is a dominant deciduous tree whose branches reach out over the country lanes we walk each day. It is a joy for me in the autumn when their leaves fall in thick carpets of gold turning to russet begging to be trod upon, to shuffle nostalgically through them releasing their sweet aromas and hollow, leafy sounds.

Orb-weaving cross or garden spider plump with eggs.

Orb-weaving cross or garden spider plump with eggs.

In nature, form follows function . All summer long, the curvaceous golden-bejeweled, orb weaving cross spiders have spun their spiraling webs in the fields and along the fence rows to catch the flies and wasps drawn to the foraging cattle herds. Their bodies have grown plump with eggs and they now spend their days resting close by the web site, often not replacing the torn spirals for days at a time. On mysty days, their sagging, water-laden webs are easily seen. In late October when the developing eggs have stretched their abdomens very tight and they feel the mothering urge, the cross spiders will leave their sticky traps to find suitable leaves or crevices in which to spin and secure their golden egg sacs, filling them with hundreds of eggs. The sacs will remain safely hidden until the warm weather of spring arrives and the yellow spiderlings emerge en masse.

Of course, autumn would not be complete without a celebration of the highly decorative cucurbit family – the gourds, pumpkins and squashes. One of our local farm stores is currently bursting with a rich harvest, much of which is raised in the their own fields in central Washington in the Columbia River Basin. The descriptive names of the gourd family fruits intrigue me and allude to their colors, forms and outer textures: warty, turban, banana, Cinderella, cheese wheel, spooky, ghost and bumpy. Their colors range from the basic foundation tones to the cool and warm colors, from cream, to blueish, blue-green and several orange and orange-reds along with yellows. One even has a pinkish cast. Their sizes vary from mini to gargantuan although none are record-breaking. Interspersed throughout their displays and making it feel very rustic and country-like are roughly-hewn, locally-recycled wooden sheds, boxes, shelves and of course, the traditional Indian corn cobs, and golden corn shocks.

A warty pumpkin.

A warty pumpkin.

Autumn begs immersion by way of the sensual to witness the colors, forms and textures of this transformational and regenerative fall time journey. It’s an emotional time of letting go of the summer past, a time for reflection and relaxation. The beauty that delights the eye, the fruits and foods that feed the body and the celebrations that feed the spirit sustain us as we enter more deeply into the dark of the year in preparation for our emergence into the light next spring.

A  frittata made with the bounty of autumn.

A frittata made with the bounty of autumn.

So invite your friends and join me next time as AlpineLady adds recipes featuring hearty fall soups, spreads and dips, entrees and desserts centered around the bounty of the season.

Until then, blessings on your autumn adventures!

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Musings in the Autumn Season: Transformation and Regeneration

Autumn-frosted dandelion seed head.

Autumn-frosted dandelion seed head.

As we enter into the darker phase of the year’s seasonal cycle here in the northern hemisphere, autumn encourages Gaia to drop her floral skirts and leafy shawls, to expose her fleshy fruits and seeds to its blustery winds, cold rains, the foraging birds and animals so they may disperse her plant life’s potential. Symbolic of transformation and regeneration and housed in a myriad of shapes and textures, her seeds and spores surrounded by hard, soft shells or lying naked, await the length of daylight, weather and/or temperature signals indicating that harvest season has begun and to release her ripe bounty.

Recently I stood in a small orchard contemplating how far afield seeds might travel borne on the winds, dropped into a stream, trapped in the gullet of a migratory bird, in the digestive tract of a browsing animal or even stuck to my shoes when a gust of wind whipped through shaking the branches of the apple, pear and plum trees. I heard it rattle the kiwi vines and whistle through the nearly-naked blueberry branches and move on causing the wind chimes to sound. Just then a pear plopped down close beside me and this got me to thinking about what happens to the fruit left lying on the ground and the natural process of decay and seed dispersal. Right here in front of me, I was called to witness the transformation and regeneration processes associated with entering into the darkness of the autumn season.

Orchard chickens.

Orchard chickens.

From experience, I knew if I left the pear’s pome on the ground, the owner’s chickens would probably peck at it since they now have full run to scavenge the orchard and garden area of anything left on the ground. Their pecking would break through the pear’s soft skin and expose its juicy flesh. If after they were satiated or off to catch a grasshopper, any of the fruit pulp remained, it served as a rotting bounty for mice, blue jays, wasps, fruit flies, ants and slugs who extracted sugars and nutritional components which helped sustain their lives. Even the smallest bits provided minute fodder for molds, bacteria, fungi and other digesters from which to extract nutrients.

The soft, once succulent, curvaceous fruit that rests on the moist ground attracts organisms from below as well They help transform the pear into fuel for the living tissues of organisms along the food chain. Earthworms leave the security of their dark caverns and tunnel up underneath the fruit’s heavy body to devour the softening interiors, feeding themselves first before passing it through their digestive tracts to enrich the ecosystem. Tracings of the mycelial tendrils of gray and white fungus infiltrate the rotting flesh and press inwards, while expanding outwards wherever the fruits touch one another to eventually engulf the whole in a mass of spore-producing mold. Trailing mycelia also extend from the mulching leaves on twisting, forking strands of white, ferrying mineral salts and sugars near and far as the autumn breakdown and decay in the orchard continues.

I picked up the fallen pear, felt its weight and looked it over carefully. It had few blemishes and no sign of bruising so it remains suitable for drying. If any of the other pears on the ground have been lying out for several days, they may be too ripe to enjoy eating out of hand but may be okay for drying and canning. I’ll check their necks first and if they give way under a light press and don’t feel too soft, these will go into the save bucket. I’ve gotten used to passing up the beautiful but overly-ripe, soft ones under the trees for they might already be too oddly flavored; although I admit, I find them hard to resist and may pocket a few just in case.

Soft pears too ripe to eat, picked off the ground and having rotten cores!

Soft pears too ripe to eat, picked off the ground and having rotten cores!

Because a pear ripens from the inside out, the core area turns into a brown, unsavory mush first which affects the flavor of the whole pome. Nothing but creative knife-work will safe bits and pieces of the outer flesh and often not worth the effort. Might as well leave those in the orchard for the chickens to eat and inevitably add them back in their poop as part of the natural composting cycle in the orchard. Every few days in this small orchard, the owner picks up all the fallen fruit and carts it to the compost bin to go through several more stages of transformation, heating up and breaking down before being spread out and helping to regenerate the growth cycle of Gaia’s plant life in the gardens.

Frog Pond Roadhouse with seedling pear tree bearing hard, inedible fruit. Parent tree nearby had delicious fruit.

Frog Pond Roadhouse with seedling pear tree bearing hard, inedible fruit. Parent tree nearby had delicious fruit.

When a human enters into the transformational process by eating the pome, a number of tangents develop. Few of us eat a fruit and defecate in the woods say, such as a bear would who raids an old abandoned orchard, thus spreading seeds with a nutrient-rich package of feces surrounding them eventually to break down and be utilized by a number of organisms. If these seeds begin growing and mature into trees, they rarely recapitulate the parent pear’s good traits. I’ve seen these sport trees around old homesteads grow taller than the parent stock and with much smaller, often inedible fruits even when the old parent tree fruit is incredibly delicious! Modern orchard stock is normally grafted.

Vermiculture worms.

Vermiculture worms.

Short of having a composting toilet, chickens, pigs or a compost pile to throw the digested or rotting fruits, cores and scraps into from either eating, canning or in some manner preserving the harvest, most of us throw it in the trash or down the garbage disposal as a convenient way to disperse the pear’s nutrients which then end up in the septic tank, water reclamation plant or dump. Fortunately, I have a vermiculture bin of red wriggler worms that will eat up my kitchen scraps and give back rich soils and worm tea (the liquid that drains out of the bin) which I use in my container gardens. I also save a good portion of the veggie and fruit scraps from the house for my orchard-owning friends. Their chickens get to scavenge through it first as it is spread on their compost pile and then the chickens take it full circle to the orchard and deposit when nature calls and thus another cycle of transformation and regeneration begins anew.

Join us next time for Musings in the Autumn Season: Colors and Textures


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Musings in the Autumn Season: Sensuality

For me, the autumn of the year is a sensual season filled with many colors, textures, sounds, tastes, and smells that influence the whole of my being.  

Autumn colors highlight an early snowfall.

Autumn colors highlight an early snowfall.

The myriad of leaf colors enliven my sense of sight to the reality that fall is occurring. Soon the deciduous plants will lose their leaves and I’ll be able to see the mountains through the twigs and branches of the trees that throughout the spring and summer hide them from view; and will also allow me to see the first fall snows sensually outlining the valleys and glaciers on the highest peaks, bidding me to look their way.

The fermenting smells of ripe fruits set upon by a myriad of fruit flies and wasps, the rotting of fish carcasses alongside their ancestral spawning rivers and streams, the odors given off by piles of grasses and trails lined with rain-sodden leaves remind me of the important cycle of decay, composting and the natural recycling of nutrients within an ecosystem.

The sounds of migrating fowl, the winds that jostle the trees that make the leaves to fall, the squabble of crows in the mountain ash tree gorging on the ripe fruits, the bull elk calling to establish his territory and attract potential mates, the falling fruits and nuts and the heavy rains represent closure to a season of growth and abundance and the beginning of a cycle of rest, gestation and renewal.

Pear ripening in autumn sun about to be picked

Pear ripening in autumn sun about to be picked with slight upward twist. If it comes off easily,  it is time for harvest.

The test of touch and taste determines if a pear is ripe or not. The texture and flavor of a pear that is perfectly ripe will be far different from one that is even slightly under ripe. The greener pear will have a grainer texture and be flatter tasting. To speed the process, put them in a paper bag with a banana or apple which gives off ethylene gas that assists the pear in producing its own. It may only take a day or two before the alchemical transformational magic of being perfectly ripe happens. Check the neck with your thumb applying a gentle pressure and if it gives to a soft press, it is ripe and ready to eat. Pears are one of a few fruits that taste better picked slightly green and allowed to ripen off tree; therefore, commercially picked pears are picked slightly immature on purpose, cooled down in a controlled atmosphere and then brought out to ripen when needed. Keeping some in the refrigerator and taking out a few days before you want to eat them, does the same.

Ripening apples

Ripening apples

For me, the apple represents all five universal senses. The color and shape of an apple helps determine its visual appeal. Biting into a freshly picked apple often produces a crack and crunch of sound, a sweetness or bitterness to the taste buds, a sense of texture to the tongue and smell to the nose inherent in the variety eaten. No wonder the apple, with its strong sensual and savory appeal, was sadly chosen and forever maligned by early Christian illustrators to represent that sinful, irresistible moment in the Garden.

Here’s a recipe for to make enough Apple Turnovers or Pear Turnovers for three, one to keep for yourself and two to take for a potluck dessert!

  • Crusts for three:
  • 3 C flour
  • l &1/4 C shortening ( I used butter.)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 5 1/2 Tbsp. water (I used slightly more of rice milk)
  • 1 tsp. vinegar (I used wine vinegar)
  • Measure flour and salt into bowl. Cut in shortening (until pea-sized). In small bowl, beat egg lightly, add vinegar and water. Then combine with flour. Stir until evenly mixed but not too much. Divide dough into 3 equal balls. As needed, flatten balls and roll out on lightly floured surface. Fold in half and gently place on parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  •  Stuffing for three:
  • 8 C sliced apples, approx.
  • 1/4 C brown sugar lightly packed or you could use honey or even cane sugar but they’re so sweet already I’d  hold off on too much sweetness.
  • 2 Tbsp flour (more for juicy pears)
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander and other favorite spices
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. butter placed on top of each stuffing before folding over the top.
  • I mix all the apples, lemon juice and dry ingredients together and let set for a few minutes. Meanwhile I rolled out one crust at a time. Then filled up a half dome, leaving room around the edge to crimp them together. Add the dollop of butter, folded over the top, rolled/crimped edges together. Cut slits for steam to escape. Then I finished the next turnover, etc.
  • Heat oven up to 350-375 and bake till done 35 min. or so depending on how brown and done you like the pastry.
  • When I take them out to cool, sometimes I’ll pour a spoon of my hawthorn infused honey into the steam holes…mmmmmh…I could also see doing that with cream, too. The addition of ice cream would make it even more sinful! These turnovers age well and are good cold.
  • Apple Turnover

    Apple Turnovers